Posts Tagged ‘Business Planning’


Why You Need a Google Alias Now

11-28 hiding behind a mask smallGoogle has become another social media tool that allows its Google Plus clients to use something other than their real name. These aliases or pseudonyms can be a nickname or just a series of letters. When Google launched their social tool a few years back, they wanted people to build a network based on people with real names. They recently ditched this idea in their terms of service in favor of a growing trend for any creative ID to act as a name similar to those used on Twitter and Youtube. However, there are limits to how many times a user can change their name in a given period of time.

If authenticity is so important online, why would a business person want to use an alias?

  1. Get greater separation between personal and online life. Despite popular practices, not everything should be shared online. Many business people have opinions that they want to post that should not be associated with their business (and for good reasons).
  2. Prevent stalkers. There are a lot of weird and predatory people surfing the Internet. An alias gives more privacy which is a difficult commodity in an Internet connected world. It provides a barrier to actually meeting these crazy people in real life. Any pseudonym can be deleted and recreated in a different form at any time.
  3. Prevents work colleagues on viewing personal work or opinions online. Personal views may conflict with business employees or customers. It allows this body of work new opinions posted under an alias not to be viewed through the filter of a real known person.
  4. Aliases bring a new start. Anyone can create an online alter ego. This can be an outlet for creativity and exploration. Different personas can also cover a variety of niche areas without conflict.

Be careful. There are drawbacks of an alias which include:

  1. Adds stress to life. Constantly mentally separating to be an alias can be time consuming. This is especially true if it becomes more popular than the real life version of the person.
  2. The temptation of less accountability. Hiding behind an alias will tempt many business people to say and do things that they would not with their real identities. This can cause real life regret. Caution should still be used because no one should assume that an alias will never be connected to the real person.
  3. More conflicts. People may be put off when they find you are the alias for a pseudonym that they despise. Steve Colbert says he is playing a character on The Colbert Report and has a difficult time being viewed as himself.
  4. Changing perceptions. Once an alias becomes well established, it's hard to transfer that online capital to a real person. When Amber Osborne wanted to come out from behind her alias "blue haired Miss Destructo " persona,  there were many challenges. Some people did not want to view her as anything else except her alias. Think about the stereotyping of actors for certain roles like William Shatner as the iconic Captain Kirk and James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

Have you created a personal alias separate from the business? What has been the results?


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

11-17 stop sign small

If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.


3 Tech Tools That Make Your Small Business Seem Much Larger

11-13 shadowBusinesses no longer are forced to lease office space and hire multiple employees to start and grow. Thanks to the many technology tools that are available today, even a one-person startup operating out of a home office can interact with clients and customers. Best of all, these tools are often affordable, utilizing the devices an entrepreneur already has.

By choosing the right selection of tools, a professional can grow slowly, giving customers the impression the business is located in a large multi-story business suite. Here are three great technologies that can turn your small enterprise into a complex business, complete with customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

VoIP Call Forwarding

As a small business owner, your cell phone is your lifeline. Today’s cloud-enabled VoIP phone systems offer a wide variety of features to facilitate communication as you grow. Using an online interface or a desk phone, a business can forward calls as needed throughout the day.

As a business adds employees, additional users can be added, with calls being routed to employees whether they’re at home, in the office, or traveling from one meeting to the next. These systems can also be set to ring multiple phones at once, so a professional can have a desk phone, cell phone, and home phone ring simultaneously to ensure no call is ever missed.

Cloud Services

Cloud service providers have served as the great equalizer in the business world, giving SMBs access to technologies traditionally only available to larger businesses. Companies pay a monthly fee for access to software, file and application hosting, and web hosting from any device. Cloud services providers employ some of the best IT professionals to provide the highest level of security and reliability.

In addition to providing storage and software functionality, the cloud has also made it possible for businesses to rethink the traditional approach to getting work completed. Instead of committing to a full-time employee with salary and benefits, a business owner can contract with an online virtual assistant to help manage tasks, as well as graphic designers, application developers, marketing professionals, and other workers. This work can be done on a paid-per-job basis, with workers potentially living on the other side of the world.

Billing and Payment Solutions

Invoicing is an essential part of any growing business. During the process of building and growing a startup, an entrepreneur doesn’t have the time to dedicate to sending invoices, collecting payments, and tracking funds. Automated solutions give business owners the opportunity to automate the process, saving time and preventing costly errors.

Newer solutions also offer the opportunity of setting up a portal through which clients and vendors can view and pay invoices, as well as view the status of pending payments. These tools cut down on the number of phone calls for information and give a business an even more professional, big business appearance.

Technology has opened up many possibilities for businesses, including giving small businesses the ability to appear much larger. By setting up the right infrastructure from the beginning, an SMB can give itself a competitive edge in its field.


Why Dentists Can Predict the Next Economic Downturn

11-13 Dentists and economy smallDental appointments actually say a lot about the state of the US economy and can predict its future health. According to a recent Businessweek article, patient visits per scheduled follow-ups, ratio of actual to projected fees for dental service, potential monthly revenue from suggested treatments, and accounts receivable per practice are all factors that gauge consumer confidence and have reliably predicted the direction of the economy for the last seven years.

Using these metrics, where is the economy heading in 2015? According to the dental index numbers, things may be pretty bleak.

Patients aren’t coming back. For starters, August 2014 saw a dip in the number of follow-up dental visits patients kept. Dips also occurred 11 months before the 2008 recession and again in 2009 amid the recession. This would indicate a downward turn in the economy sometime in the middle of next year.

Patients are not getting supplemental dental maintenance. Patients are rejecting services that supplement a traditional hygiene appointment, such as x-rays and more complicated maintenance because of cost. These numbers, which have stayed relatively constant over the past four years, are currently fluctuating and more closely resembling the 2007-2009 timeframe during the Great Recession.

Patients aren’t accepting treatments. There is also a growing gap between the number of treatments dentists are planning to perform and the number of treatments patients are accepting to have done. History has shown that this gap occurs just before the economy takes a turn for the worse.

Patients aren’t paying on time. Accounts receivables of dental offices are larger when the economy dips because patients and insurers are slower to pay. Accounts receivables are up 22 percent since last year and are close to 2008 levels.

Every small business owner should look at customer behavior inside their own business as pre-recession indicators. Are existing customers not coming back as often? Are they buying less than they used to? Are they not buying into suggestions of products and services? Have they stopped paying on time? This is quite common throughout a pre-recession economy and small businesses need to be especially wary of how this affects their cash flow.

Indicators such as the dental index may be the key to helping the US economy prevent a cavity!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Customer Service Trends for the Holidays

Modern Christamas gifts box presents on brown paperThe holiday shopping season is almost here, and if your small business hopes to come out on top in the furious competition for holiday sales, you’d best take notice of these holiday shopping trends for 2014 and what they mean to your customer service.

Online shopping takes center stage.

Customers are using the Internet not only to shop for gifts, but also to research holiday purchases even when the final purchase is made in a brick-and-mortar store.

What you can do: Whether you sell products online, in a physical store or both, your digital presence is crucial. Use customer service tools such as live chat to engage with prospects browsing on your website. Prominently put contact information such as your toll-free customer service number/s on every page of your website. Post your store’s address, phone number and hours of operation clearly so your website drives customers to your store.  

Time is of the essence.

Consumers are busier than ever; a recent holiday shopping survey found that’s one reason they’re going online to “pre-plan” their spending. Waste their time and you risk turning them off your business permanently.

What you can do: Make sure your customer service staff, from order takers or call center employees to front-line retail clerks, is adequate to handle peak demand. Also ensure your network is working properly so customers shopping or researching online don’t experience delays. If you have an ecommerce site, offer multiple options for getting help fast—from call-in numbers to FAQs and popup live chat windows.

Money is tight.

More than 80 percent of consumers plan to spend the same as or less than they did last year. Consumers say price is their top consideration when deciding where to shop.

What you can do: Help customers make smart choices focused on value. As a small business, you may not be able to offer rock-bottom prices. Here’s where your customer service team comes in, by offering expertise and guidance to explain why your products are worth their cost and helping customers decide between various options.

Shoppers have lots of alternatives.

The average consumer will visit two to three stores and/or websites before making a holiday purchase. Online, the competition is just a click away.

What you can do: Providing stellar customer service is essential. Make sure your customer service team is trained, empowered and energized to provide the best possible shopping experience. If you don’t already have a loyalty program, implement one now to reward loyal customers. 


Mondays with Mike: 6 Creative Ways To Make Sales Internationally (Even If You Think You Can’t)

11-3 International competition smallAs the marketplace expands to cover more and more of the globe, you’re going to realize your competition may not just be the guy across the street.  It might be a guy in Mexico or China.  The big difference in having competition in another country is that you can’t simply focus on defensive measures to preserve your business.  You must start thinking about offense – what you can do to increase your market share by expanding your client base.

Say you own a little pizza shop.  Now I’m not going to pretend that it’s a good idea to figure out ways to deliver pizzas to China, but what I am telling you is that you can find a way to market yourself overseas.  Here’s how you can make it work:

  1. Convert your offering to information.  Pizzas don’t travel well, but books and videos do!  Whether you create a series of videos sharing your tips and secrets on running a small business, or whether you create a recipe book based on your Italian grandmother’s recipes, one of the best ways to cultivate business all over the globe is by creating a unique product that’s easily marketable online.
  2. Embrace the power of Skype.  While you may not be able to shake the hands of the folks buying your new recipe book in other countries, what you can do is have a small bookshop conduct a Q&A Skype session for the people buying your book.  You can use Skype to meet your fans and give them a personal connection to you and your brand.
  3. Leverage your culture.  The US has cultural capital, and there’s no reason not to cash in on it!  Establish yourself as a uniquely American business (with a plan that will work in other countries as well.)  If you’re selling your business model and sharing coaching tips, you can even promote cross-cultural awareness by encouraging your new international contacts to share the difficulties and successes they face in other countries.
  4. Play up the pen pal effect.  So you’re helping other businesses get on their feet … why not send them a little piece of your home country?  Receiving fun mail is increasingly uncommon.  Just think about how excited your international customers would be to get a handwritten letter from you.  Whether you reach out to bookstores selling your wares, or whether you ship a personalized thank you to people working on establishing a business that’s modeled after yours, your contact will make your brand memorable.
  5. Find a way to handle other currencies.  Whether you use PayPal or one of the other services that facilitates money transfers among different currencies, make sure you’re prepped so pesos and euros don’t keep you from completing sales.  Being able to work with other currencies lets you reach far more clients.
  6. Establish a local presence.  Once you get a foothold in another country, it’s important to signal your appreciation for and dedication to that business.  Whether you schedule personal appearances or establish a local bank account, consider getting more deeply involved in those communities who support your business.

It’s a big old world out there, and there are more potential customers every day.  Think big.  Think global.  Find some way to package your business for an international audience, and you’ll reap the benefits.




 
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